Hippolytus died circa 236 C.E. While his writings may have been "unsystematic," as you say, there is almost no doubt (historically) that he was accused of being a "ditheist" by Bishop Callistus. W.H.C. Frend thinks that the bishop may have been justified in labeling Hippolytus thus. He also thinks that Hippolytus thought of the Logos as a created being, deified for a time. The Catholic writer Edmund Fortman in his book The Triune God also informs us that Hippolytus "rather deliberately seems to avoid putting the Holy Spirit on the same personal plane with the Father and the Son, and to regard Him more as a divine force than a divine person" (page 119). Granted, as Fortman writes, Hippolytus may not have highlighted the "personality" of the Spirit because he was not dealing with a heated issue that arose prior to 381 C.E., namely, the Pneumatomachi Controversy. Nevertheless,he does not seem to ascribe personhood to the Spirit of God and he appears to subordinate the Son (ontologically) to the Father.Blosser:
I have no serious quarrells here, as far as I can tell. Muslims regularly accuse Christians of tri-theism, and Christians aren't always cautious to avoid being thus misunderstood. If you ask nearly any rank-and-file Christian to explain "God," he will almost always, if he ventures the least bit beyond the confessional formulations, end up saying things that could be understood either in the direction of modalism or tri-theism. Beyond that, it's an empirical fact that trinitarian concepts are refractory to facile understanding and that many people-- even theologians otherwise known for reasonably careful thought-- have expressed themselves incautiously or misunderstandingly on the Trinity.Interlocutor:
The primary point I want to make about Hippolytus, however, is that his views do not stem from lack of precision or conceptual clarity. Nor do they originate from his being less than circumspect when it comes to articulating his theological concepts. Hippolytus expresses himself the way he does, I contend, because he believes that Christ is a deified creature, one who has gradually progressed from LOGOS ENDIAQETOS to hUIOS (i.e. LOGOS PROFORIKOS) to QEOS.Blosser:
Well, I suppose we're both on shaky ground where speculating as to Hippolytus' subjective dispositions are concerned-- whether he was less than circumspect or deliberate and clear. I think what I'm more concerned with is the resulting Christological formulation, which, from the anachronistic perspective of post-Nicene theology, is awkward and weird. An orthodox Catholic just would not talk about Christ in such a manner after the Nicene and post-Nicene Christological dogmatic definitions and clarifications.Interlocutor:
From a Catholic perspective, one would say, "Look, we know that the Ecumenical conciliar definitions are true, since they were ratified by popes and have the Church-mediated authority of God behind them. So we know that Christ is nothing less than 'true God of true God.' Now all of this is in perfect harmony with Scripture, even though there was a period of some three-hundred years prior to Nicea (AD 325) during which the Church hadn't settled on any particular official way of formulating the relationships between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus there were a range of various Christological formulas proposed by different theologians-- some closer to what we would today call orthodoxy, others at a farther remove, and still others simply heretical. There were various theories (as you well know) -- adoptionist, Ebionite, docetic, gnostic, and so on -- some of which the Church took a position against (such as the wording in the Apostles Creed directed against a docetic view of Christ) and some of which she didn't immediately. St. Thomas Aquinas raised several questions about the tradition of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, which wasn't formally defined until 1854 by Pope Pius IX, but this didn't get him condemned as a heretic because the doctrinal tradition hadn't yet been defined and a degree of latitute was permitted in interpreting the matter. Likewise with Christology in the 3rd century. Hippolytus' formula would be condemned as utterly unorthodox in a post-Nicene milieu, but within the context of his time, it's not altogether incomprehensible to me how he might have come up with such an interpretation as he did. For one thing, there is a progressive dimension to the earthly life of Christ -- from His lowly birth, baptism, and transfiguration,
to his resurrection, ascension, and glorification, etc., which might suggest the sort of thing Hippolitus thought he saw in Christ. It's just not altogether surprising. But why should I want to follow Hippolytus' Christological speculations rather than the Church's official teaching -- especially when they contradict the latter?"
The problem, as Swete notes, is that the language of Hippolytus does not allow for the Holy Spirit being an eternal divine relation or Person--he also believes that the Son as such is not eternal--and his thought evidently contains elements of subordinationism. That is, Hippolytus is not just maintaining that the Son or Spirit are subordinate to the Father as respects function; they are subordinate PER ESSENTIAM. Such claims are utterly at odds with Nicene Christianity.Blosser:
I find it difficult to be surprised by any of this. Until controversy compels the Church to publicly clarify her mind on a doctrinal issue such as this and define it (as at Nicea), one expects to find a great deal of latitude in what is believed and asserted about the question. This is the case at present with questions such as those eschatological questions concerning the anti-Christ, the meaning of the 'millenial' reign of Christ, the tribulation, the 'binding of Satan', etc., etc. And it was the case with other doctrines before they were defined.Interlocutor:
I don't think the Church allows that much latitude. Bishop Callistus (who was evidently a modalist or Monarchian) accused Hippolytus of being a ditheist. Frend thinks Callistus was quite justified in appending this descriptive term to the Roman theologian. Moreover, if Hippolytus really did believe that Christ was a deified or apotheosized creature as suggested by Refutation of all Heresies, 10, this would put him outside the bounds of orthodoxy. We are not just talking about imprecise God-talk: the Christological ideas contained in the writings of Hippolytus are at odds with basic Trinitarian thought.Blosser:
From what I just said above, it should be apparent that I have little to disagree with here. On the one hand, it may be ill-advised to judge the official position of the Church with regard to Hippolytus (if it had one) from the epithets of a modalist or Monarchian who was himself a heretic. [Here I retract an earlier assertion I made in ignorance that the Church never canonized Hippolytus, comparing him to Tertullian, since a brief perusal of an article on him made it clear that he had been, in fact, canonized. The matter is made exceedingly problematic by the fact that he developed Christological formulations that are highly heterodox and that he opposed the popes of his day, even getting his small band of followers to elect himself as a rival pope (what Rome calls an "antipope"), and by the fact that, despite these infelicities, he was later reconciled to the Church before he was martyred, earning canonization as a Christian martyr. These latter judgments of the Church, however, cannot be interpreted as approval of any part of his heterodox Christological doctrines.]Interlocutor:
If Hippolytus held a form of subordinationism of the Holy Spirit or Son, this should not surprise us. Further, as mentioned before, there is a legitimate respect in which these two Persons of the Trinity ARE subordinate to the Father and proceed from Him, even if this isn't clearly articulated in the possibly deficient formulations of Hippolytus.
According to orthodox Trinitarian thought, the Son and Spirit may be subordinate to the Father in a functional sense--though Kevin Giles disputes this point--but no orthodox Trinitarian is going to openly or knowingly concede the second and third Persons of the Trinity are inferior in essence, which (as you know) is what subordinationism entails.Blosser:
Yes, I know. My point is that the legitimate "functional" subordination of Persons in the Trinity helps us understand, at least, why heresies holding an "essential" subordination of Persons very likely emerged. I'm not sure, but this sort of distinction may not have even been entertained before Nicea (AD 325).Interlocutor:
My beef with Mr Bowman is that he has illicitly employed Contra Noetum 10.1-2. This passage does not say what he would like it to say.Blosser:
I have no quarrel with that.Interlocutor:
Good, that means I can take a breather. :-)Here I insert a prior paragraph of Foster's to clarify the context of the discussion following:
The problem with God willing the Son into existence, even if He did so by means of His own essence of substance, have been detailed by Jesuit Edmund Fortman (quoted earlier). Fortman lists what he calls two "grave defects" with Hippolytus' "theory" of the Father metaphysically (!) willing the Son into existence: (1) The Logos was not a person or the Son eternally, but only precreationally; (2) "The generation of the Son was not essential to God but only the result of a free decision of God. Hence God might have remained without a Son and thus might have remained only one Person" (Fortman, page 118). In other words, the generation of the Son, according to Hippolytus as interpreted by Fortman, was something that may or may not have transpired. It was a contingent divine act.Blosser:
Yes, indeed. I don't dispute this. What I dispute is the notion that he can be taken for a careful trinitarian theologian. He's the theological equivalent of an Empedocles, and the notion that his writings can meaningfully be adduced against Nicea seem not more plausible to me than that Empedocles metaphysic should be proposed as counting against the Periodic Table of Elements developed in the 19th Century. At most, it seems to me, Hippolytus gives us one snapshot of the kinds of inchoate Trinitarian opinions that existed in the ante-Nicene period.Interlocutor:
I wonder if Hippolytus can be taken for a "trinitarian theologian" at all. At what point does a person become a non-Trinitarian theologian? The problem I see with the paragraph above is that you appear to assume that Hippolytus is expressing an "inchoate" form of the Trinity doctrine in a non-precise manner. But I submit that a comparison between Ptolemy and Copernicus would be more apt. Hippolytus does not seem to espouse an inchoate form of Trinitarianism at all. His writings help us to see that the famed "way to Nicea" was filled with twists, turns and diversions. Nicea was firm in its insistence that the Son is begotten, not created. He is consubstantial with the Father (says Nicea), not by promotion or progressive divinization, but UT NATURA or PER ESSENTIAM. I don't believe that Hippolytus' statements were even headed in this direction.Blosser:
As I intimated earlier, we have no choice but to judge Hippolytus' views heretical in terms of the later dogmatic definitions. We might also judge St. Thomas' questions about the Immaculate Conception somewhat short of the orthodox clarity of the 19th century dogmatic definition, though this is a comparison unfair to St. Thomas, who is canonized, after all, and an official Doctor of the Church.Interlocutor:
You object to my appearing to view Hippolytus as expressing an "inchoate" form of the Trinity doctrine in a non-precise manner. That may be a bit over-stated. I see him as a "trinitarian" theologian in the sense that he engages in speculative theologizing concerning the Persons of the Trinity, much as you do -- which, I guess, makes YOU a "trinitarian theologian" in my sense (but don't tell the Watch Tower
I like your comparison of Hippolytus and Nicea to Ptolemy and Copernicus. I would expand on it only to add Aristarchus, whose heleocentric cosmology in 250 BC anticipated that of Copernicus in the 16th century. Thus, one could appropriately see Aristarchus as standing to Holy Scripture as Ptolemy to Hippolytus and Copernicus to Nicea. What SEEMED like a "Copernican Revolution" from the vantage point of heterodox thinkers sympathetic to Hippolitus, was merely the retrieval of
the original apostolic deposit of faith found anticipated in Scripture. But even that is probably giving far more importance to Hippolytus than is reasonable, for he was certainly no giant in theology like Ptolemy was in astronomy, and there were many other patristics more congenial to Scripture and Nicea than there were astronomers between Aristarchus and Copernicus who were congenial to them.
If the pre-Nicenes truly did not view Christ as "fully God," then the early Christians were not simply saying that Christ is subordinate to the Father. Augustine of Hippo writes that each divine Person is fully God or the whole of the Godhead is in each Person. To say otherwise, to deny that Christ is "fully God," is to blatantly contradict what Augustine averred. One who makes such a declaration is not merely insisting that Christ is subordinate in function to the Father. Rather, a Christian who does not affirm the full deity of Christ is subordinating him to the Father vis-a-vis being, essence or nature.Blosser:
This is assuming that "fully God" can mean only what you think it means. But why should we believe that? It is also to assume that each ante-Nicene utterance regarding a Person of the Trinity is to be accorded the same weight you would accord it in a theological treatise on the Holy Trinity. But why should we think that? It seems to me that there are a wide variety of contexts in which men made reference to "God" ("Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit") in the first three centuries. If I were to respond in the affirmative to my young son's question "Daddy, did Jesus pray to God?" would this mean that I was denying that Jesus is "fully God"?Interlocutor:
I use the terminology "fully God" as the Nicenes used it and as Augustine employed the nomenclature. For Augustine of Hippo, the whole of the divine substance is in each Person somewhat perichoretically. For Auggie, the Son is VERE DEUS, VERE HOMO. I understand this to mean that Christ (in Augustine's paradigm) exemplifies or instantiates every divine property exemplified or instantiated by the Father and the Holy Spirit, EX HYPOTHESI.Blosser:
Yes, but that's exactly my point: you're understanding "fully God" in light of the full-blown Nicean and post-Nicean Augustianian formulae here; but I'm asking why we should think pre-Nicene Church Fathers should have understood by "fully God" all that. Wouldn't that be a bit like expecting Euclid to understand Einstein? We know that Einstein doesn't "refute" Euclid, but he certainly builds on him and develops and refines his understanding. When my father and mother first explained Jesus' relationship to His Father to me, I know I did not fathom the full implications of Augustine's "vere Deus, vere homo" or the Nicene "homoousios" and Christological hypostatic union. In fact, I'm not sure many Christians do, perhaps including myself.Interlocutor:
I imagine something like this: even though I don't doubt for a moment the veracity of Trinitarian Christology, I do not suppose that Jesus' identity was grasped by his disciples very well, especially before His resurrection. This is clear from the NT, I think. They supposed He was someone special, even the Messiah, but I doubt they even began to fathom what that meant. Even after His ascension, I think it only natural that the more speculative types of individuals had long bull sessions over their beers brainstorming about what exactly the significance of this Messiah was. I have no doubt that it became part of the Apostolic deposit of Faith that Jesus was God made flesh. But I'm not sure what that meant to those with more speculative dispositions among the patristics in the sub-apostolic age. Some basically towed the Apostolic line. Others ventures farther afield. Eventually Nicea became inevitable and mandatory. The bishop-shepherds of Christ's flock could tolerate only so much confusion in their ranks before they had to pull rank and call the dissenters back to the Apostolic Faith.
One Catholic theologian writes:Blosser:
"There are various aspects hence arising, which do not belong to the Divine Essence as such, but are peculiar to one of the other of the Persons and not common to all. These are the only differences between the Persons. They are not differences of substance or of the essential divine attributes; so they mark, not a multiplication of the Godhead, but of the personalities in the one Godhead."
Hence, "fully God" (as I see it) has reference to the divine essential attributes or necessary properties. So, in answer to your question, I would say that you are not necessarily denying that Jesus is God because you answer in the affirmative. Of course, your example has to do with Christ in his incarnate state though, and not with intra-Trinitarian relations per se. In any event, what I'm trying to say is that God is supposed to instantiate or exemplify certain properties, particular attributes. If a being does not possess such attributes EX TOTO, then the said entity cannot be "fully God." Therefore, if the Son (according to Hippolytus) is a deified creature or not eternal as such, how can he be fully God?
Well, of course such a creature could not be fully God; and you should have no doubts by now about my agreement with you that Hippolytus (like JW teaching) is heterodox!
So I think I do see your point quite clearly. My argument has been that the existence of such thinkers as Hippolytus before the Council of Nicea is not to be regarded as a bizarre anomaly even on the supposition that the Nicean dogma of the Holy Trinity is true. It takes time for truth to clarify, especially when it's surrounded by those bent on subverting it.